why isn’t it a good flag?
Let’s take a closer look at the current Los Angeles flag.
The five basic design principles of a good flag, as outlined by Ted Kaye, esteemed vexillologist and author of Good Flag, Bad Flag, are as follows:
- Keep it simple.
- Use meaningful symbolism.
- Use two to three basic colors.
- No lettering or seals.
- Be distinctive or be relative.
At best, one could maintain that the Los Angeles flag breaks three of these five basic rules. We’d argue, however, that it violates all five principles:
1. Keep it simple
“The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.”
The municipal seal prominently featured in the center of the flag is complicated, intricate, and anything but but simple. More on this later...
Otherwise, sure, one could argue that, without the seal, the flag is rather simple: three bars of color separated by two jagged lines. A kid could draw it.
2. Use meaningful symbolism
“The flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes.”
The three prominent colors are supposedly representative of three major California crops: olive trees (green), orange groves (gold), and vineyards (red). I'm sure we can all agree that, while Los Angeles is known for many things, olive trees, orange groves, and vineyards are not at the top of the list. If we're talking about California as a whole, it'd be a different story. Even LA County, sure. But as a representation of the city of Los Angeles, this symbolism is weak and misrepresentative.
Furthermore, the distinct notched pattern, while recognizable, serves no meaningful purpose. It's a contrived element, designed simply for design's sake. The individual components of the jagged lines (such as the number of notches) don't stand for anything, nor does the overall structure or placement of the zig-zag lines. The jagged lines are a major focal point and perhaps the only distinguishing factor of the flag, and yet they're completely arbitrary, neither representative nor relevant to the city or its people.
3. Use two to three basic colors
“Limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which contrast well and come from the standard color set.”
Technically there are three prominent colors: green, gold, and red. The inclusion of the seal, however, introduces an additional five colors (white, blue, yellow, brown, and black) bringing the total color count up to eight.
4. No lettering or seals
“Never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seal.”
One of the biggest, most fundamental problems with our flag is the city seal featured prominently at its center. Municipal seals are designed for pieces of paper. They are intricate and meant to be viewed inches from your face. When a seal is placed on a flag a hundred feet away flapping in the wind, the seal is rendered illegible and the flag unrecognizable, thus defeating the purpose of both seal and flag altogether.
5. Be distinctive or be relative
“Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.”
A quick fix for the Los Angeles flag, one might think, would be to simply remove the municipal seal. While this would be a big step in the right direction, we would still be left with a rather indistinct flag. The way the three colors play together, in conjunction with their placement across the flag is neither unique nor representative of Los Angeles. In fact, its inadvertent similarity to other unrelated flags (e.g. Mali, Senegal, Guinea) seems to draw an unfounded relationship with places that actually have very little to do with Los Angeles.